Debbie and Dance


Debbie Westphal brings to our dance families an unusually diverse background in dance, including professional training, theatrical experiences, and decades of experience as a dance educator.  Combine with that her "out of the box" creativity, custom choreographic talent, range and diversity of styles, ability to edit music, costuming expertise, and keen awareness of audience appeal, and you've got "Debbie's Dance Magic."


Growing up in the Betty Hill Dance Studios, Debbie has experienced our entire history from her days as a beginning dancer to being our owner-director.

As a junior and senior high school student Debbie studied ballet, tap, jazz, character, and pointe with Rose Lorenz.  Debbie also studied with Ann Dirksen, studying theatrical ballet, tap, freestyle ballet, liturgical dance, and musical theater.  Both Rose and Ann were nationally respected dance teachers and had a profound effect on Debbie's understanding of dance, music, and choreography.


Debbie also attended regional and national dance conventions each summer, including regional conventions in Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis, and national conventions in New York, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.


In high school Debbie was a member of the "Band Aides," the marching group affiliated with the award-winning Valley High School Marchmasters under the direction of director Jerry Kinney.

Debbie worked with Kinney to create "The Silver Belles," an auxiliary group of the Valley marching band.  Debbie was captain and choreographed routines for the group to perform at high school games, and at the Girls Basketball State Tournament.

Debbie and her partner Terry competed at the Iowa State Fair at the Bill Riley Talent Search, as well as on the television version of Bill’s talent competition.

Bill asked Debbie and Terry to travel throughout the state with him, performing their act to provide entertainment while judges deliberated at local and county competitions.

Our students love performing on the Bill Riley Stage at the State Fair, the same stage Debbie performed on as a teen!

In college Debbie studied movement and dance and was a four-year member of Orchesis, the University of Northern Iowa modern dance company.

Modern technique helps trained dancers learn to move (and think) "out of the box" of more traditional dance styles.

Debbie added a theatrical twist to the UNI program, choreographing many of the dances for their performances Debbie's junior and senior year of college.


As a young teacher, Debbie choreographed “The Music Man” starring Gary Kroeger at the Northern University High School, working with musical experts Ken Butzier and Les Hale.

Debbie also choreographed “Oliver” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” working with Jim Lamson, veteran Valley High School Drama Director.


While teaching at Valley High School, Debbie created The Valley Dancers. The core group performed at Valley games and area events.  One of Debbie’s Valley Dancers was Laurie Gamache, who later starred as Cassie, the lead of “A Chorus Line” on Broadway.


An expanded group of nearly a hundred dancers performed at fall and spring shows. Nearly 30 boy-girl couples performed an original medley, “The History of Social Dance” featuring eight dance styles from the minuet to the present. 

In 1978 Danny and Betty Hoctor invited our dancers to perform Debbie's choreography as the closing number for “Stars of Tomorrow.”

This was the first showcase of national dance studio talent held by Hoctor's Dance Caravan, held in Las Vegas. This was the fore-runner of the dance competitions we have today.

During the late 1970’s, Debbie developed a popular disco program, "Disco Nights," teaching hundreds of couples to rumble, hustle, and boogie to the disco beat.

One of Debbie’s first studio performing groups was “The Disco Queens.” This select group performed at regional events, taught disco, and performed on a local television show.

In 1979 Debbie became certified by test to membership in Dance Masters of America, an international organization that restricts its membership to dance teachers who have passed proficiency exams.

In the three decades Debbie has been a member, she has served as secretary of the area chapter, Dance Master Mid-America, two times for a total of nine years.

Debbie became a certified aerobics instructor and created over 30 albums of original fitness routines for her highly successful program, “Dancersize Fitness.”

In the mid 80’s Debbie created “The Betty Hill Crew.”

Her break dancers performed at area events displaying their skills at uprock, tut, locker, and floorwork, including eggrolls, knee spins, back spins, hand spins, swipes, worms, windmills, and turtles.

Debbie and her guys also taught break dancing throughout the region, and performed for the Iowa Cubs.

In 1987 and 1988 Betty Hill Dance, then owned and directed by Debbie, was selected to represent Iowa at the Young Americans National Invitational Dance Festivals held in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, attended by one state representatives from throughout the nation.

Our dancers advanced all five dances to finals and won two high-point national championships—more than the delegations from all other states including New York and California!  Debbie also won awards for choreography and creativity.

Three of our dancers were chosen to join the Young Americans!

At the Des Moines Playhouse Debbie choreographed “Peter Pan,” “Scrooge,” and “Peace Child,” considered by its creator as "the most successful domestic production of the work."  The performance featured over a hundred and twenty children and teens, including over a dozen from the Soviet Union.

"Peace Child" was so successful that two years later a revival of the original work, spearheaded by Director John Viars, Musical Director Paul Dieke, and Debbie as choreographer, was taken on "The Great Plains Tour" of Iowa.



Debbie highly respected Leonard Bernstein's genius, and attended the premiere showing of the film version of West Side Story in 1960.

Debbie was excited to be the assistant choreographer at the Des Moines Playhouse for their outstanding 1986 production of "West Side Story."

Nearly 20 years later, Debbie was invited as a parent participant in the West Des Moines Schools three-summer training program in Bernstein's Artful Learning Model for educational reform.  Debbie was thrilled to meet and visit with two of Berstein's children.

Through Debbie's choreography at the Des Moines Playhouse, she developed a friendship with Paul Dieke, Musical Director and Des Moines entertainment legend.  Paul became an important resource for our students, teaching vocal music and auditioning at our dance camps, as well as coaching our performers as we added singing to our State Fair and Christmas performances.


Paul's work with Debbie and our students bolstered our musical theater roots, adding vocal expertise to our theatrical dimension.  Paul's influence continues today through our students' performances and Debbie's added expertise in vocal music.

One of Debbie and Paul's greatest collaborations was a medley of songs from "Grease," reprised last summer for our students' summer performances at area malls and the Iowa State Fair.

In 2003-04 Debbie held a year-long partership with the West Des Moines Schools as a guest artist for their "Wonders on Wednesdays" program, a vehicle to provide enrichment activities to all first through sixth graders at Rex Mathes and Clegg Park Schools.

Debbie created "NSTEP with Character," a dance program incorporating the six pillars of character with dance as a sport, a celebration, and a performing art.  

Her NSTEP team taught 12 workshops, held four school assemblies for the students to perform, with a separate performance for the school board.


Debbie's most valuable experiences in the techical training from classical ballet has been her work with master ballet educators.


Debbie studied with Jean Passantino, former Ballet Mistress for the Kansas City Ballet for several years while Ms. Passantino taught classical at our studios.

For ten years Debbie audited the coaching sessions of Robert Thomas and Miyoko Kato, former Joffrey Ballet soloists, as they worked with principal dancers for the CY Stephens performances of The Nutcracker Ballet.

Debbie also audited many of the classes taught by Gigi Oerter, former Ballet Mistress of the Des Moines Ballet, who has taught classical at our studios for over a decade.

In 1992 Betty Hill Dance was chosen to represent Iowa at Dance Excellence in Hollywood.

We spent a week in California in master classes, touring area attractions, and showcasing several dances in performance boards.

Our dancers received first place awards and performed at Disneyland.

Debbie’s dancers have competed in local, regional, and national competitions, from Minneapolis to Dallas, and from New York to Las Vegas and Hollywood.

We've received hundred of awards, including first place, gold, and special designations. Many of our routines have been awarded high points.

We usually compete in one or two competitions each spring in the Des Moines area for our dancers who want an experience with competition.

However we try to keep costs reasonable and place our primary emphasis on education and performance.

In the last five years dance, singing, and talent shows have exploded in popularity.  "Dancing With the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," and "America's Best Dance Crew" have brought dance to a whole new demographic.

Although "Dancing With the Stars" is filmed in Los Angeles, the professional and celebrity partners need to practice while they travel, and our studios hosted two of the Season 8 couples as they traveled to Des Moines.


When it came time for "Dancing With the Stars, Des Moines Style," a fundraiser for the American Diabetes Association, local leaders knew where to go.

Debbie was selected to conceive, choreograph, and coach the dances for Des Moines celebrities, and the result was a smash event that was a financial success for a very worthy cause.


Throughout Debbie's decades of dance experience she has gained a deep understanding of ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, pointe, acrobatics, fitness, partnering, character dance, modern, musical theater, liturgical dance, break dancing, social dance, and show dancing.

Her vast knowledge of--and respect for--dance styles allows her to match choreography with our dancers to reveal their greatest talents and put their best feet forward. 

It all comes back to our kids!

Read about Debbie and Education.

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